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Political Party Workers Attack TV Channel in Pakistan

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

Paramilitary soldiers stand guard near the dismantled makeshift tents of the supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party after a protest, in Karachi, Pakistan, Aug. 22, 2016.

Paramilitary soldiers stand guard near the dismantled makeshift tents of the supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party after a protest, in Karachi, Pakistan, Aug. 22, 2016.

Workers of a political party in Pakistan attacked the offices of a local TV channel Monday, leaving one person dead and several others injured.

When the violence started, MQM, a regional party that used to control Pakistan's commercial hub of Karachi, was staging a hunger strike in front of the Karachi Press Club against what it alleged were extra-judicial killings and disappearances of its activists by law enforcement agencies.

MQM’s leader, Altaf Hussain — who lives in self-imposed exile in London — raised anti-Pakistan slogans during his address Monday and encouraged his followers to attack several TV channels that he said did not give due coverage to his party.

FILE - A supporter of Altaf Hussain, leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, (MQM) holds his picture during a protest rally in Karachi, Pakistan, May 20, 2013.

FILE - A supporter of Altaf Hussain, leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, (MQM) holds his picture during a protest rally in Karachi, Pakistan, May 20, 2013.

Channels in Pakistan are barred from giving him coverage by court order because of past controversial statements that the court deemed anti-state. However, other leaders from his party regularly appear on various channels.

Television and CCTV footage showed dozens of men and women holding batons and rods, ransacking the offices of the TV channel ARY. Several vehicles outside the offices were set on fire. A cameraman from a different channel, Samaa, was attacked while trying to take video of the events.

Rangers arrested a senior leader of MQM, Farooq Sattar, as he arrived to address a news conference in front of the press club after the attack.

Monday's address by Hussain was unexpectedly hostile because the party had been using passive resistance, despite the pressure and arrests following the Rangers’ operation to rid the city of massive crime and violence, according to Wusatullah Khan, a senior journalist from Karachi who contributes to BBC's Urdu language programming and co-hosts a show on a local TV channel.

A policeman inspects a vehicle burned by Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party protesters, in Karachi, Pakistan, Aug. 22, 2016.

A policeman inspects a vehicle burned by Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party protesters, in Karachi, Pakistan, Aug. 22, 2016.

Khan said this was the third hunger strike camp set up by the party during the last five or six months. All the previous ones ended peacefully after a few days of speeches and festivities. The current camp looked the same until Hussain's address started.

"Suddenly at 6 p.m., when Altaf Hussain started his address, he gradually raised the tempo and roused the workers," Khan said. The strikers, most of them women, attacked a nearby TV channel.

"The way MQM's leadership has been shocked today, it doesn't look like Altaf Hussain took them into confidence that he was going to do this," Khan added.

The locally based leadership of the party had held meetings with provincial and federal leadership to resolve their grievances prior to Hussain's address Monday.

Several channels in Pakistan have asked how the British government could allow one of its citizens to openly incite violence in another country.

Hussain has been living in Britain since 1992, and he requested political asylum due to another military operation to clean up Karachi in 1992. The British government gave him a passport in 2002.

Senior MQM leader Sattar was taken away by Rangers even as he was seen insisting on live TV that he would meet with them after his press talk.

Tahir Mashhadi, the leader of MQM in Pakistan's senate, said that while he was unable to discuss details of Monday's events, he knew that the sense of deprivation among MQM workers had been growing.

"Over 60 MQM workers have died in custody of the law enforcement agencies," he said, adding that another 160 or so were missing but were on record as having been picked up by law enforcement agencies.

Mashhadi also accused the government of pushing MQM supporters to join a rival political party, and not letting its charity arm collect donations.

He said he condemned the attack on the media "in the strongest terms," but said people should wait for a proper investigation to find out what happened before drawing conclusions.

Before the Rangers’ operation, many in Karachi seemed afraid to even talk about MQM and accused it of extortion, kidnappings for ransom, torture and murder.

MQM denies the allegations.

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